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Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Lizelle Herrera’s abortion story could become a common one across Texas

The 26-year-old charged with murder on accusations of having a “self-induced abortion” will no longer face consequences, but her story is foreboding.

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On Thursday, April 7, 26-year-old Texas resident Lizelle Herrera was arrested and charged with murder on accusations of a “self-induced abortion.”

Her attorney told Buzzfeed News that she was indicted for “intentionally and knowingly [causing] the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.” She was placed under a $500,000 bond in a jail in Rio Grande City.

Details about what happened, including whether Herrera herself had been pregnant, were not immediately clear.

The Starr County Sheriff’s Office also did not initially state which law that Herrera was arrested for. Texas had banned abortion after six weeks, but penalties are focused on abortion providers, not pregnant people themselves.

After Herrera’s arrest was first publicized, abortion rights advocates quickly began fundraising to help her with legal costs, and she was released from jail on Saturday, April 9. 

"We want people to know that this type of legislation impacts low-income people of color communities the most when state legislators put restrictions on our reproductive rights," Rockie Gonzalez, founder of Frontera Fund, told Texas Public Radio.

In a sudden turn of events, Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez announced in a press release on Sunday, April 10, that his office is dismissing the charges against Herrera. 

“The issues surrounding this matter are clearly contentious, however based on Texas law and the facts presented, it is not a criminal matter,” Ramirez said in a statement.

Despite the grand jury indictment, the facts of the case did not allow Ramirez to prosecute. 

It was still unknown on Sunday whether Herrera was accused of inducing an abortion on herself or if she helped someone else get one. Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation.

University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck told The Associated Press that Texas law exempted her from a criminal homicide charge for aborting her own pregnancy. 

"(Homicide) doesn't apply to the murder of an unborn child if the conduct charged is conduct committed by the mother of the unborn child,'" Vladeck said.

The 2021 Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy has sharply reduced the number of abortions in the state. It also allows private citizens to sue doctors or anyone who aids a woman in getting an abortion. 

The woman receiving the abortion is exempted from the law.

"Although with this dismissal Ms. Herrera will not face prosecution for this incident, it is clear to me that the events leading up to this indictment have taken a toll on Ms. Herrera and her family," Ramirez said.

Rio Grande Valley and national reproductive rights advocates said she should never have been arrested in the first place.

Nancy Cárdenas Peña, Texas state director for policy and advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said that abortion should be available on the woman’s own terms where she feels most comfortable.

“Allowing criminal law to be used against people who have ended their own pregnancies serves no reasonable state purpose, but may cause great harm to young people, people with lower incomes, and communities of color, who are most likely to encounter or be reported to law enforcement,” Peña said in a statement. 

While this is a victory, it is bittersweet, and many advocates believe that Herrera will not be the last Texas woman of color victimized in this manner. Many advocates are unsatisfied with the way this case was handled, and are demanding more justice for Herrera. 

“We still need answers from the Starr County DA because he took that case to a grand jury. We need to know how, or why he was under the (WRONG) impression that a crime was committed,”  Mary Drummer, Network Director at All* Above All, wrote on Twitter.
 

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